How to improve your winery tour

Discover McMinnville

Wineries throughout the Yamhill Valley open their tasting rooms to welcome you, the taster, to wine country.  Over Memorial Day, Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekends, you may discover special events, fancy food and perhaps a little music have been added to further enhance the experience.

Some of you are experienced, knowledgeable wine consumers. Others may be wondering what all the talk is about. No matter your comfort zone, this is a great weekend to visit a few wineries and find something that tastes good to you. Here are some suggestions to help make your wine country adventure more enjoyable.

Where to go - You have many winery and tasting room options. From Amity to Newberg and points in between, wineries and storefront tasting rooms dot Yamhill Valley roads. Your choices may depend on location or what you want to experience.

Consider how much driving you want to do. Some wineries are tucked in secluded corners of the valley and take a little extra effort to find. Targeting wineries in one general area helps reduce the drive time.

Use a designated driver – This is all about drinking alcohol, don’t forget. If one person volunteers to be the designated driver, everyone else in your group can relax knowing they are in safe hands. Some wineries offer courtesy non-alcoholic drinks to designated drivers so don’t hide your identity when you arrive.

Should you visit a winery or a tasting room?  First, clarification may be in order. The term “tasting room” could mean two different things. Individual wineries have special rooms on site where wine is poured for your enjoyment, simply called tasting rooms. Some businesses, however, have wine storefronts in other locations. These also are called tasting rooms though they are not located at the winery.

So, should you visit the winery or a storefront tasting room? There are benefits to each. If you choose a winery, you can enjoy the countryside experience, driving past vineyards and seeing the production facilities where the wines are made. Many wineries offer tours during the weekend.

Storefront tasting rooms, on the other hand, often are clustered in central locations such as downtown McMinnville, Carlton and Newberg. If you choose to visit downtown McMinnville, for example, you can walk into several storefronts without moving your car. And, some of these tasting rooms feature vintages from several wineries.

Don’t try to do too much – Wine tasting is not a competition. There’s no trophy for visiting the highest number of wineries in a day. Instead, take your time to enjoy the wine and the conversation.

Ask questions – Two things can be said about Yamhill Valley tasting room staffs. First, they are passionate about wine. They know what they are talking about. Second, they love to share that knowledge. So ask questions. Don’t be shy.

The wine industry has its own vocabulary and you may hear terms you don’t know. Ask the pourer for clarification. This isn’t a class lecture, it’s a conversation among friends.

Enjoy the “flight” – Here’s a term you may not know. “Flight” refers to a suggested order of wines being poured that day. A flight is organized so you can appreciate the merits of each sample in a logical order. If a flight is not outlined for you, ask what they recommend.

Try it, you’ll like it – Don’t assume all wines are the same. You may be surprised by what you find.

“If somebody comes in and says, “I don’t like pinot noir,’ or, ‘I don’t drink whites,’ to me that’s a challenge,” veteran tasting room manager Mich Nelson says.  “I have a chance to open their minds and help them expand their palate and perhaps introduce them to a style of pinot or white wine they might like.”

Spit it out, pour it out - You don’t have to drink everything in your glass. Whether you are managing your alcohol consumption or you don’t like a specific vintage, it’s acceptable to pour your glass contents into a nearby bowl on the bar counter.

You may even see someone spitting out wine. That’s OK, too. 

Take notes - Consider writing down the name and vintage year of each wine you try and include some personal notes as to what you liked about them. This comes in handy days and weeks later when you are thinking about a nice wine for a holiday celebration. You can check your notes.

Drink water, eat something - Make sure to drink water and nibble on something – cheese and bread, for example - throughout the day. Staying hydrated and fed helps battle the alcohol effect and lets you enjoy the taste of good wine. It’s also a good idea to occasionally sip some water or eat a cracker to cleanse your palate between samples.

Protect your senses - There’s more to wine tasting than simply drinking. There are different aromas to discover, varied tastes to experience. Avoid coffee, gum, smoking and anything else that may affect your taste buds. Also, skip perfume or cologne for the day. What may smell nice at home can play havoc at the tasting bar. Consider it a courtesy to others around you as well.

Tasting fees - Wineries often charge a tasting fee. They are, after all, in the business of selling wine, not giving away free drinks. Some wineries may waive the fee if you buy wine. If there’s no fee, consider it a courtesy to buy something in return for the free tasting.

Try sharing a tasting with your spouse, date or significant other. A shared tasting saves money and also reduces the amount of wine you drink during the day.

Dress in layers. It may be chilly outside during the winter months and it’s possible you may be cold indoors as well. Wineries often keep buildings cool to protect the wine. Also, wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes that will be secure on concrete, uneven floors and gravel driveways.

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